The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity opens the 24th plenary assembly tomorrow with the topic: "Witnesses to Christ in the Political Community." Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed a "pressing need" for a renewed commitment from Catholics in political life.
The session will not inspire a return of priests holding seats in Congress, but I suspect an emphasis on lay Catholics voting and participating in open accordance with their religiously-cultivated consciences.
One hopes the focus should spur a dialogue on the role of religion in citizenship. Too long has the left succeeded in arguing that religious morality should be excluded from politics (under the rubric of "separation of church and state" or tolerance for diversity) - while, at the same time, defining their own moral views as "secular" and hence perfectly suitable for politics. Any person whose values or opinions are persuaded by religious faith or morality ought thus be banned from politics - only atheists and de facto faithless believers are sufficiently "secular" to properly influence politics.
Of course, this view was anathema to the Founders and is contrary to every sensible interpretation of a "separation of church and state," properly understood. A robust defense of religious citizenship may soon be due. In contemplation thereof, I offer the preeminent statesman:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric.